RoboTrump: Class Sues Campaign Over Unwanted Texts

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By Daniel R. Stoller

April 26 — The official campaign committee for Donald J. Trump, the leading contender for the Republican nomination for President, was hauled into court April 25 for allegedly sending text messages to the putative class without their express consent in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

RoboTrump: Class Sues Campaign Over Unwanted Texts

The class action complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleged that Donald J. Trump for President Inc. contacted the plaintiff and the putative class with text messages asking to subscribe to the campaign and that the subscription would “help Make America Great Again!”

Trump's attention is likely focused entirely on the Tuesday April 26 primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island and it is doubtful that the potential plaintiffs' recovery in the lawsuit gives him pause. But the complaint serves as a reminder to campaigns that political robocalls aren't exempt from the TCPA.

David Almeida, class action partner at Sheppard Mullin in Chicago, told Bloomberg BNA April 26 that he would “be surprised if most major campaigns are not sued before the election season is over.”

Increased Scrutiny

“Political campaigns are coming under increasing TCPA scrutiny,” Almeida said.

He cited, for example, that in 2013 President Barack Obama's campaign and the Democratic National Committee were sued for allegedly sending prerecorded messages to a plaintiff's mobile phone (39 PRA, 2/27/14). The case was ultimately settled when Obama for America agreed to an injunction (202 PRA 202, 10/20/15).

The TCPA, 47 U.S.C. § 227, prohibits the use of automated telephone dialing systems without the prior express consent to receive unsolicited text messages. Here, the plaintiff alleged that the text messages were sent to the class without their prior express consent using the bulk-messaging software Tatango, in violation of the TCPA.

These kinds of cases “can cause a lot of headaches for politicians and campaigns because they rely heavily on phone banks and text messaging, yet have no mechanism by which to seriously obtain and document consent,” Almeida said. “Campaigns are likely operating under the misconception that their political calls are exempted, when in reality” they need consent, he said.

The affect of TCPA suits on political campaigns “may be the most proactive mechanism to get Congress to update” the antiquated TCPA, he said.

Statutory Damages

The plaintiff is seeking statutory damages, attorneys' fees and an injunction for the campaign to stop sending unsolicited text messages.

The complaint asserts both wilful or knowing and negligent violations of the TCPA. Negligent violations may result in statutory damages of at least $500 per violation. Wilful or knowing violations may receive treble statutory damages, or at least $1,500 per violation.

The complaint doesn't estimate how many members there may be in the putative class.

Siprut PC is representing the putative class. Counsel for the campaign couldn't be immediately identified. Attempts to contact the Trump for President campaign were unsuccessful.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel R. Stoller in Washington at dstoller@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald G. Aplin at daplin@bna.com